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Care of our Wagyu cattle

Our Wagyu cattle are raised in a sustainable manner to bring out the best of their genetic qualities.

Weather permitting, we let the mothers and their calves roam outside. Here, the calves, just like children, can expend their energy. The calves have unlimited access to their mother’s milk and are also protected by their mother and aunts. In the evening all cattle return to the shed, where the calves can walk among their mothers, aunts and the other calves but can also lie down in a separate calf enclosure. Calves can freely move in and out of this calf enclosure which the larger animals cannot access. The shed has food ready for the large cattle and in the calf enclosure there is special calf feed.

When the cows are 12 months old they move from the large herds to smaller groups in the beef cattle shed where they are given special feed concentrate such as grain. For each kilogramme of fat gain, four times as much fodder is required. Grass does not provide enough energy to realise this. Fat is considered unhealthy, but the fats from these animals are not unhealthy as these contain omega 3 and 6 fats. Fat is also a flavour carrier, giving Wagyu beef its exceptional flavour.

Beer and massage
Following Japanese tradition our cattle are also given beer in the form of brewer’s grain, the residue from alcohol-free beer production, because drunken animals, like drunken people, are not on their best behaviour. According to Japanese tradition the cows are massaged, a practice also followed at Wagyu Farm. For this we use special mechanical massage brushes. These massage brushes provide a deep massage that improves blood circulation, digestion and the general well-being of the cattle.

The animals are fed a Dutch variant of a Japanese recipe. Besides high amounts of energy, the cattle require a great deal of roughage. We feed them chopped  grain with the kernels (whole plant silage) and corn cob mix (CCM). Furthermore we give them a balanced feed concentrate with the right protein, minerals, vitamins, and vegetable oils to soften the fats in the meat even more. The wide variety of grains adds the finishing touch to the rich flavour of Wagyu.

Hierarchy and herd size
As with most animals that live in groups, there is also a hierarchy within a herd of cows. This hierarchy is established by means of head to head fights. The strongest cow who manages to push away the other from that moment onwards achieves a higher social rank than the other. Thus every cow knows its place within the hierarchy and this creates socially dominant and socially subordinate animals. Thanks to the clear hierarchy, no energy is wasted on fighting and there is peace and discipline. A herd always has a leader, sometimes even a few. These are usually experienced, older cows that are not necessarily the highest ranking in the hierarchy. In nature, a herd is never very large, 30 to 50 animals at the most, so that all animals know each other. If the herd size increases, the herd naturally splits into two herds. In a large herd, cows no longer recognise each other causing a great deal of fighting and consequent unrest. Because of the hierarchy, the animals are dehorned to prevent them from hurting each other. Not initially as the horns look so attractive, but it is necessary to remove them. This is carried out under anaesthetic by a vet and takes place at the same time as castration when they are about 3 months old.

In nature, cows ready to calve, separate themselves from the herd and give birth to their young in a sheltered place. At the Wagyu Farm, calving takes place in the calving shed where they can lie on straw. This calving shed is clean and near the main shed so that the mother to be can see and hear the herd. This makes the mother animal feel more at ease; after all it is and always be a herd animal. During the last months of gestation, the calf is positioned on its back. Before labour, the unborn animal rotates to an upright position with its forelegs stretched forward. First the water bag appears and when this ruptures, the amnion sac follows encasing the calf. When all is positioned as it should be, the legs will appear before the head. The calf is licked extensively and the afterbirth is eaten by the (vegetarian) mother to prevent attracting predators. This licking encourages activity, breathing and blood circulation and creates a strong bond between mother and calf. While the cow licks its calf dry, she utters soft sounds to her calf. These are sounds that she uses for her calf alone and the calf can recognise its mother by these sounds. Within an hour a calf will get onto its feet but will stay close to the spot where it was born for its first week. The cow will return to the calf and let it suck several times a day. This happens 5 to 10 times a day. After this first week, the cow and calf rejoin the herd where the calf can play with other calves. This playing has a function: through play the calf learns the social skills needed as a cow. The calf is naturally suckled until two months before the next calf is born.